Pilgrimage and tourism at India’s ‘Land’s End’

By Gwilym Beckerlegge

I first visited the small town of Kanniyakumari in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu in 2006. The town is named after Kanya Kumari, the ‘virgin goddess’ who is a representation of the Great Goddess, to whom the town’s most well-known temple is dedicated. Evidence of Kanniyakumari as a centre of Hindu pilgrimage, especially for devotees of the Devi (Goddess), stretches back well over a millennium.

The meeting of three seas off its shore is believed to add further to Kanniyakumari’s sanctity. Fringed by steep conical hills and bounded on the southernmost tip of India’s mainland by the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea, it is a place of great natural beauty.

Approaching Kanniyakumari

 

 

 

 

 

Its striking seascape is renowned for its spectacular sunrises. One can readily understand why Kanniyakumari is sometimes referred to in guidebooks as India’s ‘Land’s End’.

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Decolonising Religious Studies

By Paul-François Tremlett – part of our series on Black History Month.

As part of the Open University’s events marking Black History Month I gave a short lecture examining textual and visual representations of Melanesian Cargo Cults, to highlight how the production of knowledge about Cargo Cults by anthropologists and others was sealed off from overlapping contexts of colonialism, capitalism and racism. The lecture focused on Francis Edgar Williams’ ethnographic account of the so-called Valaila Madness (1923) and David Attenborough’s representation of the followers of John Frum in the film, The People of Paradise: A Journey through the South Seas (1960). I suggested that these representations of Cargo cults were structured by a Western conception of rationality that, while abstractly premised upon the psychic unity of humankind in practice furthered the active denigration of black voices and experiences.

Such critiques in anthropology are not new: for example in 1973 Talal Asad in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter – and 13 years later Renato Rosaldo in Writing Culture – insisted that attention be directed to the techniques through which anthropological and scientific knowledge has been separated and insulated from the colonial contexts in which it was produced. Importantly, they also advocated experimentation with new kinds of ethnographic writing that could accommodate “multicentric, dialogical perspective[s]” (Borofsky 2020, p. 2).

In tandem with the welcome advance of global south and decolonial epistemologies in anthropology, the field of Religious Studies has seen a shift in recent years away from essentialist and a-historical accounts of this or that World Religion (with a capital R) represented more or less as discrete and unitary systems of ideas and beliefs, to a focus on lived religions. The field has a complex, inter- and trans-disciplinary ancestry including anthropology, history, philology, philosophy, sociology and theology, yet epistemological debates about methods and theories have remained largely trapped within a series of over-lapping binary oppositions including reason : experience, insider : outsider, qualitative : quantitative and reductionist : phenomenological, that have helped sustain a range of problematic, Western assumptions such as the privileging of mind and Man over matter. The lived religions focus is decidedly about what people do rather than what they believe and it has brought to the fore voices, groups and communities that were silenced by the World Religion approach, but nevertheless it does little to challenge the hegemony of the meaning-endowing and rational-choice-making individual as the unit of analysis in the study of religions,

and is largely silent about post-humanist epistemologies and the contribution they can make to decolonising the field. Malory Nye has constructively exposed some of the blind spots in the teaching of Religious Studies, for example its habit of “celebrating diversity” while “not talking about race” (2020). Furthermore, informed by the work of Bruno Latour, Graham Harvey has stressed the importance of thinking religions in terms of “embodiment, materiality, and relationality” in order to “radically contest the privatization and interiorization of religion” (Harvey 2020: 144) that emerged under the hegemony of white, Protestant modernity. In a similar spirit and riffing from writings by Jane Bennett, Manuel DeLanda and Gilles Deleuze, I have suggested that the focus in Religious Studies should be the transformations of historically and culturally situated and stratified assemblages of religions, secularisms, technologies, states, spaces and economies (Tremlett 2020).

There is no quick fix to decolonising Religious Studies, no single, simple step to a decolonised curricula or pedagogy or research methods. But we do have skills of listening and learning through which the field can better reflect on itself as a mode of production for generating knowledge about religions and the wider world. Those skills need to be brought to bear both to experiment theoretically and methodologically in our research, in the design of curricula and in the development of teaching and assessment strategies.

Bibliography

Asad, Talal. 1973, ‘Introduction’ in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, (ed), Talal Asad, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.

Barofsky, Rob. 2020, ‘Rethinking Ethnography: A Study in Public Anthropology’ in Anthropology Today 36 (5): 1-2.

Harvey, Graham. 2020, ‘Trans-Indigenous Festivals: Democracy and Emplacement’ in Ritual and Democracy: Protests, Publics and Performances, (eds), Sarah M. Pike, Jone Salomonsen and Paul-François Tremlett, Sheffield: Equinox.

Nye, Malory. 2020, ‘A Discussion of the ‘Religion and Worldviews in Religious Education’ Report: Critical Race Theory’ https://medium.com/@malorynye/religion-and-worldviews-in-religious-education 142c0007ce37

Rosaldo, Renato. 1986, ‘From the Door of his Tent: The Fieldwork and the Inquisitor’ in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. (eds). James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tremlett, Paul-François. 2020, Towards a New Theory of Religion and Social Change: Sovereignties and Disruptions, Bloomsbury: London.

Williams, Francis, Edgar. 1977. ‘The Vailala Madness’ and Other Essays. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii.

Black Majority Churches and the transformation of British Christianity

By John Maiden – our second post marking Black History Month (see first post here).

What has been the impact of the ‘Black Majority Churches’ (BMCs) on post-1945 British Christianity? Why is it imperative we address a lacuna in the literature on British religious history? I had the privilege today of trying to address these questions in an (online…of course!) lecture for Black History Month in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University. It was an opportunity to talk about research which I’ve recently published on in two places: Evangelicalism and Dissent in Modern England and Wales (edited by David Bebbington and David Ceri Jones) and in an article for Twentieth Century British History journal.

Evangelicalism and Dissent in Modern England and Wales  book coverIt is particularly problematic, I argued, that the ‘early’ Black Majority Churches, those which appeared in the United Kingdom in the decades immediately after Windrush (though thanks to David Killingray and others, we now know something of antecedent congregations in the first half of the century), are largely, if with some notable exceptions, absent in the otherwise booming historiography of secularisation or ‘religious change’ in the 1960s and 1970s. The observations of some contemporary Christian leaders and commentators during the early 1970s were that (as the sociologist Congregationalist pastor Dr Clifford Hill put it in 1971) an ‘urban evangelical explosion’ was underway. These have in some respects been proved right. Without proper discussion of this ‘new nonconformity’ we are left with an incomplete picture of a reconfiguration of the British religious landscape.

Videos from BASR 2020

The videos of the two panels from this year’s BASR conference are now available. The conference page is archived here. Here’s the info for each individual video:

Title: BASR 2020 | Teaching and Learning Panel

Description: The opening panel from BASR 2020 focused on Teaching and Learning. First is a presentation from 2020 Teaching Award recipient Melanie Prideaux, together with her student Natasha Jones (both University of Leeds). This is followed by an open discussion on the COVID-19 pivot to online delivery, with contributions from Dawn Llewellyn (2019 Teaching Award recipient, University of Chester), Stefanie Sinclair (BASR T&L rep, Open University), Paul-Francois Tremlett (Open University), BASR President Bettina Schmidt, Melanie Prideaux and Natasha Jones.

 

Title: BASR 2020 | Worldviews in RS and RE Panel

Description: This panel, curated by Wendy Dossett (University of Chester), discusses the Commission for Religious Education’s proposal for a shift towards studying “Religion and Worldviews” in Secondary Religious Education. Contributions from Wendy Dossett, Rudi Eliott Lockhart (former CEO of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales), Suzanne Owen (Leeds Trinity University), Paul-Francois Tremlett (Open University) and Malory Nye (Independent Academic affiliated to University of Glasgow).

New Publication | Ritual and Democracy: Protests, Publics and Performances

Senior Lecturer Paul-Francois Tremlett was one of the editors of the new Equinox volume, Ritual and Democracy: Protests, Publics and Performances, along with Sarah M. Pike (California State University) and Jone Salomonsen (University of Oslo). Ritual and Democracy explores the complex intersections of ritual and democracy in a range of contemporary, cultural and geographic contexts.

This transdisciplinary and theoretically innovative volume emerged out of a workshop held at the Open University in London, organized as part of the inter­national research project, “Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource”, funded by the Norwegian Research Council and led by Jone Salomonsen. The seven research-led chapters presented here document entanglements of the religious and the secular in political assembly and iconoclastic protest, of affect and belonging in pilgrimage and church ritual, and politics and identity in performances of self and culture. Across the essays emerges a conception of ritual less as scripts for generating stability than as improvisational spaces and as catalysts for change.

The book grew out of the Norwegian Research Council funded project “Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource”, to which several OU RS staff contributed. As well as Paul-Francois’ chapter, “A Tale of Two Energies: The Political Agency of Things”, it includes a chapter by Graham Harvey, entitled “Trans-Indigenous Festivals: Democracy and Emplacement”,

Equinox are offering a 25% discount. Go to https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/ritual-democracy/, and enter the code RELIGION at checkout.

Pike-flyer-A4 Pike-flyer-US

BHM | Africa at the Forefront of Global Scholarship

By Graham Harvey. This is the first in a series celebrating Black History Month 2020.

To point out that Africans have developed many mature and vital religions, philosophies and lifeways would be banal if it were not for the weight of distain which tends to dismiss these as primitive or foolish. Contested terms like “fetishism” and “animism” could illustrate the long history of prejudice in European assessments of African religions. However, looked at differently, and challenging the legacy of colonialism, they can instead draw attention to well-established African ideas and practices which turn out to have been prescient of cutting edge global scholarship.

In recent decades many academic disciplines have re-assessed human relationships with the wider world, not only with animals and plants but also with artefacts. Practices that were once dismissed as fetishism (allegedly a mistaken attribution of life to inanimate objects) now provide significant encouragement for the “ontological turn”, the “new animism” and the “new materialism”.

In these trans-disciplinary debates, Indigenous and other ways of understanding and moving through the world are inspiring challenges to dominant “Western” or “Modern” worldviews. In particular, researchers are re-considering European-originated obsessions with individuality. People, it turns out, are shaped by their relationships – and not just with other humans. We are always becoming some kind of relation: parent, student, chef, painter, philosopher, healer, story-teller or cat-lover perhaps. Other beings and objects – cats and computers, dogs and desks – make us who we are in each encounter. It is similar with desks: they are only desks when used to support computers, papers, pens and so on. Otherwise, perhaps they are just collections of word and screws.

In the colonial era, Europeans mocked Africans for making amulets and statuettes which they expected to provide guidance or protection. Let’s ignore for now the irony that those same Europeans were wearing religious symbols and venerating images of their deity and saints. Neither group was ignorant of the “made-ness” of the disputed objects. Prejudice and polemic stood in the way of understanding.

It has taken a long time to change things. African and African-diaspora songs, oratory, novels and poetry have contributed by familiarising the world with the ideas that have informed African adaptability and creativity over the years. The late Harry Garuba (Nigerian poet and professor of English Literature and African Studies in Cape Town, South Africa) demonstrated that understanding Africa requires understanding of what he called “animist realism”. This involves the active participation of the larger-than-human community (including made things as well as animals, birds and plants but also ancestors and other significant beings) in relationships and events. What might seem like poetic metaphors have the force of personal interactions. Cowrie shells and birds in flight communicate about reality. Calabashes and stomachs express their desires to be filled with palm wine.

Whether or not you agree with the poets and writers who deploy animist realism to propel the action of their work, there is a profound insight here into the multi-species world. Humans are far from alone or unique. Our relationships (including aggressive and unpleasant ones) with the larger community shape our lives. We are aided, and constrained, by our interactions with others. These ideas are foundational in recent scholarly debates in many disciplines (such as Actor-Network Theory). An improved, de-colonial relationship with Africa and its prescient ideas and practices can animate more new thinking about interactions between humans and the larger world.

The Invasion of Waziristan and its Aftermath

By Hugh Beattie

Just over a hundred years ago, at the end of 1919, British troops invaded Waziristan, a mountainous region on the border between Afghanistan and British India and the homeland of a number of semi-independent tribal groups, including the Mehsuds and the Wazirs. Widely reported around the world at the time, the invasion’s centenary has been almost entirely ignored in Britain. There are good reasons for remembering it though: the part played by Islamic loyalties and Muslim leaders in resistance to it, the complications caused by the fact that the region bordered on Afghanistan, British willingness to use the latest weaponry against its people, and the resulting disagreements among the British themselves. [For a sketch map of Waziristan see here. The places mentioned are more or less in the centre of the map]

Since the later nineteenth century British strategists had argued that Waziristan’s location on the border with Afghanistan meant that it would be a mistake to allow it to remain independent. Unable to justify the expense and trouble of conquering it outright, they succeeded in establishing a loose control over it by recruiting two militias and paying allowances to influential men. WWI had a major impact on this. In particular, sensing British weakness, in 1917 some Mehsuds launched a major anti-British rising, and in the late spring of 1919 many of the militiamen deserted and British influence in Waziristan largely evaporated. In order to reassert it, and to punish the Mehsuds for what was seen as their ‘bad behaviour’ during the war, Britain decided to try and take full control of the region.

The Barari Tangi (one of the gorges through which the British troops advanced in January 1920). https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1957-02-11-1

On December 19 1919 a force of 29,000 men began to move into Waziristan. The Mehsuds managed to pin it down on the edge of their territory and halted the advance. Resistance was led by an influential Mehsud, Musa Khan Abdullai, and a mullah called Fazal Din. Fazal Din was a son of a famous anti-British religious leader or ‘frontier mullah’, Muhiy-ud-Din, whom the British referred to as the Mullah Powindah. The Mehsuds saw themselves as defending Muslim territory from their Christian and Hindu invaders (many of the British troops were Hindus) as well as their independence, and may have received some help from an anti-British Muslim movement, the Jamaat-i-Mujahidin (based outside Waziristan). Some Wazir men joined the Mehsuds and the Afghan ruler, King Amanullah, sent one of his officers to assist them. The British position was so bad that some officials suggested that poison gas might be used to disperse them. After some weeks, however, the troops broke the Mehsud hold, and forcing two narrow gorges, were able to move into the heart of their territory and establish a base at Ladha. As they advanced the soldiers destroyed houses, terraced fields and irrigation canals, for instance the settlements around Makin, the Mehsuds ‘capital’.

Jirgah (council) of Mahsuds [Mehsuds] near Kaniguram Waziristan 1920 (with soldiers looking on). https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1993-08-106-185

According to one historian the expedition was a fiasco.[1] That may be an exaggeration, but it was expensive in terms of human life (and money) – it’s been estimated that as many as 2,500 soldiers died during it; probably more than 2,000 Mehsuds and Wazirs, including many non-combatants, died too. Nor did the British completely subdue the Mehsuds, and some of them took refuge in Afghanistan. In 1921 the British troops used howitzers to shell some of their villages. During the winter of 1922/23 the RAF bombed them and troops were sent to demolish buildings that had escaped destruction in the earlier attacks.

The burning of ‘Makin’ from air and land – Waziristan, Pakistan, dated 1890 but probably early 1920s. Photo by Mela Ram/royal Geographical Society/Getty Images.

The British had conducted punitive expeditions into various different parts of Waziristan before, but the troops had always withdrawn after killing anyone who resisted them, and destroying houses and crops and seizing flocks and herds. Keeping them there permanently attracted bad publicity internationally. It was also expensive, and the cost of the occupation had begun to worry senior officials. At one point a serious disagreement broke out between the British Government of India and the ‘Home Government’ over Waziristan policy. Towards the end of 1923 therefore the troops were withdrawn from Mehsud territory, and relocated to a place called Razmak just of the north of it, where they built a huge base. Some Mehsuds continued to resist them until 1925. In fact the British never succeeded in subduing the region completely. During the 1930s resistance principally came from the Mehsuds’ neighbours the Wazirs, led by another religious leader, Mirza Ali Khan, whom the British referred to as the Faqir of Ipi. When the British withdrew from the Indian sub-continent in 1947, they had still not brought Waziristan fully under their control.

Razmak Camp, Waziristan, 1940(c). https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1965-04-64-98

For fuller accounts of the expedition and its aftermath see, for example, Brian Robson, Crisis On The Frontier; The Third Afghan War and the Campaign in Waziristan 1919-20 (Staplehurst, 2004) and my Empire and Tribe in the Afghan Frontier Region: Custom, Conflict and British Strategy in Waziristan until 1947 (London/New York, 2019).

[1] James Spain, The Pathan Borderland (The Hague, 1963), p.183.

Science and Political Uncertainty from Auguste Comte to Dominic Cummings

By Dr Paul-François Tremlett

Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte (1798-1857) was writing in the aftermath of the French Revolution. To him it seemed that a new, rational, and modern, industrial-scientific order was emergent. The old, feudal formation of aristocracy, Church, and monarchy, with its arbitrary privileges, had been eclipsed in the violent energies of the revolution of 1789. Comte saw an opportunity to bring an end to the uncertainties of the times by establishing a new society on rational-secular principles that would be led by scientists, artists and industrialists. Comte described post-revolutionary France as a “social system which is dying” but it was simultaneously one that contained the seeds of a “new system whose time has come and which is in the process of taking definitive shape” (Comte 1998, p. 49).

Comte believed that a new science was needed to reorganize society by raising “politics to the rank of the sciences of observation” (1998, p. 81). Initially he called the new science “social physics” (Comte 1998, p. 158), and he drew methodological inspiration for it from physiology. Comte was so convinced of the new direction post-revolutionary French society needed to take he invented a new religion – a Church of Positivism – to embed the new values into the culture. For Comte, the uncertainties of the post-revolutionary period could only decisively be resolved by the elevation of a new elite to the reins of power armed with the new scientific methods and values he had pioneered, for the solution of political problems.

It is no secret that the agenda of the current government includes a radical overhaul of Whitehall (for example, see Abby Innes’ blog post analysing Michael Gove’s recent Ditchley Annual Lecture on civil service reform: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/gove-ditchley-lecture/). At the heart of this agenda stands the figure of Dominic Cummings and his blog. Cummings’ blog juxtaposes breathless discussion of some domains of contemporary scientific research with political questions. The post ‘On the referendum #33’ interests me because of the distinction it establishes between on the one hand “stories” and “authority”, and on the other, “evidence/experiment” and “quantitative models”. Cummings links “stories” to myth (“Icarus”) and authority to irrationality (“witch doctor”) while “evidence/experiment” and “quantitative models” are linked to “physics, wind tunnels” and the “design of modern aircraft”. Later, as part of a discussion of Bret Victor’s work, this becomes a contrast between “words and stories” and “interactive models”. Words, according to Cummings, are unreliable: “even the most modern writing tools” he claims, “are designed around typing in words, not facts. These tools are suitable for promoting preconceived ideas, but provide no help in ensuring that words reflect reality, or any plausible model of reality”. Models are better than stories because their “assumptions are clearly visible”. Cummings asks the reader to imagine a new kind of writing tool “designed for arguing from evidence”:

I don’t mean merely juxtaposing a document and reference material, but literally ‘autocompleting’ sourced facts directly into the document. Perhaps the tool would have built-in connections to fact databases and model repositories, not unlike the built-in spelling dictionary. What if it were as easy to insert facts, data, and models as it is to insert emoji and cat photos?

In common with Comte, Cummings assumes that a new kind of government is required which, once armed with the requisite new writing tools and skills in data analysis and modelling, can completely re-frame the political as a field of decision-making practices. This new kind of government will be data-savvy and will make extensive use of new technologies. But facts change: at the heart of science is not the establishment of facts which are then fixed and true for all time, but a tentative and reflexive process of research and debate. Science may promise the certainty of facts, data and models but it is a certainty that never arrives and which is forever deferred, such that all we are always left with is interpretation (Derrida 1997).

Comte and Cummings are of course not the only utopian revolutionaries to have asked, “what is to be done?” but what other such figures may more clearly have recognised – or just been more up-front about – is the connection between brute power and political change. Comte invented a religion, a social science and coined the terms altruism, sociology and positivism, but his work is rarely read or acknowledged today. It remains to be seen what Dominic Cummings leaves us with.

 

References:

Comte, A. 1998. Early Political Writings, edited and translated by H. S. Jones. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cummings, D. 2019. ‘On the referendum #33: High performance government, ‘cognitive technologies’, Michael Nielsen, Bret Victor, & ‘Seeing Rooms’’. https://dominiccummings.com/2019/06/26/on-the-referendum-33-high-performance-government-cognitive-technologies-michael-nielsen-bret-victor-seeing-rooms/ . Accessed 12/08/2020.

Derrida, J. 1997. Of Grammatology, translated by G. C. Spivak. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Finding My Way

What I love about the method of study in RS is that it comes from a place of acceptance of what societies, cultures, and individuals do. Instead of picking at how a person, society, or culture ‘should’ behave, it seeks to build empathy and understanding. Within the discipline of RS, there is an acceptance that relationship with religion, spirituality, cultural practices, rituals, and actions is messy and complex. Yet scholars of religion are not scared of delving into a subject deeply private and often taboo to talk about, instead, they delicately seek to gain and spread cultural understanding and to celebrate diversity… After my first year of studying RS, I feel more connected to global affairs, to other traditions and cultures. And I feel that ultimately, I have made peace with some aspects of myself.

Mahalia Scott – a student in the 2019-20 A227 Exploring Religions cohort, has written a great piece about her journey into Religious Studies, and how it has enriched her understanding of the world, and her own place in it. Read the whole thing here. And thanks for the positive feedback, Mahalia – the Open University approach to teaching Religous Studies is innovative, so it is rewarding to see it resonating with the students!

What We Do and How We Write About It: researching a South Indian martial art

By Lucy May Constantini

In 2002, back in the days when it was the hand-to-mouth existence of an independent dance artist and not global pandemics that curtailed my ability to travel, I fulfilled a childhood ambition and got myself to India. I went to take part in Facets, an international choreography laboratory, organised by Attakkalari Dance Company in Bangalore, where for three intense weeks, sixty or so dancers hothoused traditional Indian movement practices, Western contemporary dance, and digital arts. The first class every morning of my second week was taught by G. Sathyanarayanan Nair of CVN Kalari Sangham in Trivandrum, where he introduced us to the principles of the South Indian martial art kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘. I was bewitched.

In those three weeks we only had two days off and our dancing days generally ran from around 9:00 am to a similar time at night, so it’s no surprise I got ill. Thanks to an unhappy history with allopathic medicine, I determined to find an āyurvedic alternative, āyurveda being one of India’s traditional medicines. One of my new-found colleagues popped me on the back of his motorbike and took me to the local clinic, where my pulse was read and I was given a potion to brew for the immediate illness, and huge quantities of medicated ghee to prevent it recurring. Unwittingly, here began my exploration of physical practice melded to a healing modality. It’s perhaps no coincidence that my colleague guiding me to the clinic had himself grown up in Kerala, the southwestern state of India which is home to kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘, as a teenager winning various state competitions before transitioning to dance. I brewed my strange-tasting tea and got better (I had less success with the ghee).

In 2010, I was able to rekindle my flame for kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ by going to Trivandrum to train at CVN Kalari, by which time G. Sathyanarayanan Nair had inherited the role of gurukkaḷ. Gurukkaḷ is the Malayalam plural for the Sanskrit word for teacher, guru. This plural is a general honorific in Kerala culture, while also conjuring up the image of a gurukkaḷ standing with all the tradition’s teachers behind him, both supporting him and reminding him of his obligations as the lineage-holder. In kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ these involve caretaking the martial art and ensuring its medical practice endures in a manner that serves its community, as well as fulfilling various ritual functions.

In the years that followed, I spent several extended periods at the kaḷari (the temple-building in which we practise, and which also houses the kaḷari clinic). I was puzzled that the little I could find to read about kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ seemed to be describing something quite other than what I was experiencing. The gurukkaḷ had similar concerns, albeit from a different perspective, and in 2012 he suggested we start a documentation project together to fill this lacuna between written discourse and lived practice. Our initial discussions evolved into an exchange which is at the heart of my PhD in the Open University’s Religious Studies department, where I’m looking at how the embodied practice at CVN Kalari relates to its manuscript tradition. In particular, I’m hoping to see if I can find a way of writing about kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ that is useful to people reading it who know nothing of the tradition, while also remaining recognisable to the experience of practitioners.

In May, I was supposed to present on kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘’s medical tradition at the closing conference of the AyurYog Project (http://ayuryog.org/) a five-year European Research Council funded project based at the University of Vienna that my supervisor, Suzanne Newcombe, was part of. Here’s my contribution to the online series the AyurYog project released in its COVID-cancelled stead.

In the hope that travel restrictions ease, I’m looking forward to spending time at the EFEO (Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient) in Pondicherry getting to grips with some kaḷarippayaṟṟ˘ manuscripts at some point in the second year of my doctoral research, before continuing my fieldwork at the kaḷari in Kerala.

Lucy May Constantini is in the first year of her PhD in the Religious Studies department of the Open University. Her doctoral research is funded by the AHRC Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Partnership. Two of her previous visits to the kaḷari were funded by the Arts Council of Wales and Wales Arts International.

Photo: Sathyanarayanan Nair, Lucy May Constantini and the CVN Kalari community at the vidyārambham ceremony, 2016